Reverend Horton Heat/Fishbone 09/30/17—The Cotillion Ballroom, Wichita, KS

You could make a lot of assumptions about the city of Wichita, KS. You could assume it’s a flyover state hellhole devoid of any culture or art, but you’d be (mostly) wrong. You could assume it’s a city full of hayseeds and rednecks who don’t take kindly to outsiders, but you’d be (mostly) wrong. You could assume there aren’t a lot of options for live music outside of country concerts…and you’d be almost right on the button.

There are others, however, who perform in our fair city time and time again—the dogged road warriors who tour relentlessly and build their following the old fashioned way, before YouTube hits made someone a celebrity without leaving their bedroom. When I think of who has played Wichita (country acts notwithstanding) more than anyone else, two names come to mind: rapper Tech N9ne from Kansas City (which practically makes him a local), and Dallas rockabilly legend Reverend Horton Heat.

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L-R: RJ Contreras, Jim Heath, Jimbo Wallace

RHH has played Wichita maybe six or eight times over the past decade. That may not sound like much, but as someone who’s spent the last ten years in the sunflower state pining for the old days when I could drive to LA or Las Vegas to see any concert under the sun, six or eight times in ten years is a lot. As for me, I’ve personally seen RHH at least eight times now in three different states, with three different drummers, but that hardly matters. No matter the circumstances, The Rev always puts on a fantastic show, and Saturday night at The Cotillion was no exception.

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Jimbo Wallace

One of the things I’ve always liked about Reverend Horton Heat is that, as with a lot of bands who tour exhaustively, they end up playing with just about everyone, which makes for some especially eclectic shows. Over the years, RHH has played with everyone from traditional rockabilly and country acts to White Zombie and Motörhead. Which is to say it should’ve come as no surprise when RHH hit the road with ska/funk/punk heroes Fishbone.

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Angelo Moore

Some may remember Fishbone from their early 90’s commercial peak with the release of The Reality of My Surroundings, featuring their only two singles to make the charts, Everyday Sunshine and Sunless Saturday. Some may also wonder what happened to them since then. It turns out Fishbone is doing just fine, thank you very much.

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L-R: Paul Hampton, Angelo Moore, Walter Kibby

Fronted by original vocalist/saxophonist Angelo Moore (one of three original members still playing with the band), Fishbone took a somewhat lukewarm crowd and had them eating out of the palms of their hands by the end of their almost hour-long set. Opening with the aforementioned Sunless Saturday, Moore and company set the bar high for the energy level they had to sustain for the rest of the set—a bar they had no problem clearing, and then some. Moore is as entertaining and energetic a frontman as you’re likely to find. His exaggerated facial expressions and grandiose, frenetic body language was fun to watch and a blast to photograph.

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Angelo Moore

With occasional help from a trusty roadie, Angelo switched from vocals to one of a myriad of different saxes with ease, even placing and re-placing the mic stand for his horn on cue every time. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the band sounded incredible. I spent the majority of the set planted in front of bassist and fellow original member Norwood Fisher, who laid down incredible grooves on an array of beautiful basses. By the end of closer Party at Ground Zero, the crowd was hyped and ready to testify.

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L-R: Walter Kibby, Norwood Fisher

 

Reverend Horton Heat, aka Jim Heath, has been cranking out his brand of rockabilly/punkabilly/psychobilly/whatever you want to put in front of “billy” since 1985, and has hardly let up since. Heath and his loyal sidekick/bass player Jim “Jimbo” Wallace were in the midst of recording a new album when previous drummer Scott Churilla decided to go his own way, leaving the band in a tight spot. Luckily, fate intervened in the form of fellow Texan Arjuna “RJ” Contreras, formerly of the terrific-yet-vastly-under-appreciated polka band (yes, that’s right) Brave Combo. He stepped in to record his parts for the album and was on the road touring before he knew what hit him. So would the new drummer change Reverend Horton Heat’s sound? Yes and no.

That’s because many of the songs in RHH’s set were classics and fan favorites. It would take some truly radical drumming to change the sound of set-opening instrumental Big Sky, or the dynamic push and pull of The Devil’s Chasin’ Me, but Contreras definitely has his own style, tinkering with certain drum parts and making them his own. Personally, I think RJ is a great fit for the band and I hope he has a permanent gig with the guys.

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RJ Contreras

The Cotillion Ballroom is probably my favorite venue in Wichita, and possibly the Reverend’s too, as he proudly declared how happy he was to be “in Wichita, Kansas at The Cotillion on Friday night!” despite it being Saturday. He may have been joking (he repeatedly said it was Friday, possibly just to mess with the inebriated), but if he was really confused, it’s easy to forgive—this was their 23rd show in 29 days. I’m impressed he even knew what city he was in, but then, when you’re the hardest working man in rockabilly, I assume touring with nary a day off becomes old hat.

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Jim Heath, RJ Contreras

As it turned out, the show at The Cotillion marked the end of their month-long tour with Fishbone and Los Kung Fu Monkeys (the tour’s other support act, Strung Out, bowed out the night before in Peoria, Illinois), and they commemorated the end of the tour by having a huge jam session on stage with members of all three bands. At one point during Fishbone’s set, I even caught the Reverend himself standing three feet from me, taking pictures of the band on his cell phone. It was a great show, and the best part is that with a band that works as hard as they do, I can count on them coming back to town soon.

Side note: if you don’t believe the “hardest working man in rockabilly” claim, check out RHH’s Facebook page—they already have tour dates up for the entire month of October, featuring some shows with country swing and doo wop master Big Sandy, and the entire month of December, those shows being an amazing triple bill featuring roots rock legends The Blasters and country guitar virtuoso Junior Brown. If they’re coming to your town, I highly recommend checking them out. If not, don’t worry—there’s a good chance eventually the Rev will come to you.

 

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The Black Dahlia Murder 08/20/17—The Crown Uptown, Wichita, KS

I’ve been a Wichita resident for eleven years, and a metal fan for considerably longer. Until recently, those two things—being a metal fan and residing in Wichita—rarely intermingled, as live bands playing anything but country or classic rock were few and far between (Steve Miller Band, anyone?). There  was the occasional metal show here and there, but not much in the way of a scene that people could support.

That may be starting to change.

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Brandon Ellis, The Black Dahlia Murder—sadly, the only zippered leather vest spotted all night.

In 2017, Wichita has seen shows by Mushroomhead, Cattle Decapitation, Superjoint, Amon Amarth, Hellyeah, Born of Osiris, and now, The Black Dahlia Murder. Combine that with the steady stream of shows full of local bands at smaller venues, and you’ve got yourself the makings of an actual scene.

The Crown Uptown is a gorgeous place. Although originally a movie theater when it was built in the 20’s (and dinner theater for years after), it seems almost custom made for concerts. As for TBDM show, turnout seemed a bit thin (blame the bad luck of having to book the show on a Sunday), although the fans who did show up were enthusiastic and appeared grateful to have another metal show in their town.

Kicking off the night was hometown act Parallax, playing a short but energetic set. Vocalist Trevor Rickett gave his all to try and pump up the crowd, with help from some vocal Parallax fans in attendance. The band was also shooting a video for a brand new song, so keep an eye out on social media for that one to drop.

Side note: Parallax is playing at The Elbow Room next month opening for Hed PE 09/22, so do yourself a favor and go see these guys while they’re still playing local shows—it may be only a matter of time before they’re touring nonstop and hardly ever home.

Betraying the Martyrs was up next, from Paris, France as a last minute replacement for Russian act Slaughter to Prevail. Their ultra heavy beats and growling vocals warmed everyone up, but the crowd was perhaps not ready for the occasional clean vocals and prominent keyboard parts that permeated the set.

At one point vocalist Aaron Matts urged the crowd to get moving and jump with the music, which the crowd did eagerly until the heavy riff they were jumping to gave way to keyboards and clean vocals, and the crowd lost their momentum. They’re a good band and they gave a tight performance, though by the end it I was thinking of them as “The THX band” due to the number of times their songs had beats drop like the THX surround sound intro that plays before a movie.

New Jersey’s Lorna Shore was up next, playing a short, tight set that was the first of the night to succeed in sustaining a circle pit for more than twenty seconds and consisting of more than two people. Closing with the title track off their newest LP Flesh Coffin, the band succeeded in loosening the crowd up for the remaining chaos yet to come.

Side note: Lorna Shore is returning to Wichita next month, opening for Miss May I at Rock Island Live 09/21. Don’t miss another chance to see this excellent band.

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Adam De Micco, Lorna Shore—guy liked to shred with his leg propped on his monitor.

The final opening slot (in the disappointing absence of Dying Fetus from this stop of the Summer Slaughter tour) belonged to the crushing Oceano. Led by one of metal’s most guttural vocalists in Adam Warren, Oceano brought an intensity the previous bands lacked. In fact, Warren even issued a warning to a member of the crowd to properly channel his enthusiasm, after he sprayed Warren with water during the opening number. After a reminder from Warren that people at the front of the stage were vulnerable to face-level kicks from Warren if he were splashed any more, the crowd put an end to the shenanigans and put their energy into proper displays of enthusiasm like a frenetic circle pit and the evening’s first instances of crowd surfing. Oceano was the band I was most excited to see and they did not disappoint. They were brutally heavy, buzzing with electric energy, and had the crowd worked into a frenzy for the night’s headliners.

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Adam Warren, Oceano—breaking it down while a fan headbangs.

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Chris Wagner, Oceano—you can tell he’s pounding that bass, look at his top string.

The Black Dahlia Murder capitalized on the crowd’s energy level and never let it drop throughout their hour-plus set. Running like a precision machine, TBDM cranked through song after song without sounding like they were rushing to get through their time on stage. Vocalist Trevor Strnad had a good rapport with fans, simultaneously joking around and keeping them buzzing between songs by encouraging them to keep the crowd surfing and stage diving going throughout the set, particularly among the females in attendance, who were up to the challenge.

TBDM closed with a brand new song, the title track from their upcoming LP Nightbringers, which was reminiscent of some of their most popular material. If that song is any indication, fans won’t be disappointed when the album drops in October.

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Trevor Strnad, The Black Dahlia Murder—pointing to a superfan.

Side note: Brian Eschbach had an absolutely insane guitar tone that made this guitarist and former member of metal and hardcore bands incredibly jealous.

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Brian Eschbach, The Black Dahlia Murder—he knows his tone is sick, look at him.

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The Black Dahlia Murder—orchestrating chaos.

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Brian Eschbach, The Black Dahlia Murder—sponsored by PBR.

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Max Lavelle, The Black Dahlia Murder—mid-headbang

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Alan Cassidy, The Black Dahlia Murder—they had him tucked away and not even on a drum riser, like he was some second-class citizen. Drummers are people, too! (Barely)

It was a satisfying night of deathcore and extreme metal, with every band delivering in a big way. One can only hope that attendance was good enough to keep bringing metal acts to town and for a scene to develop. Time (and perhaps turnout at the upcoming D.R.I., Miss May I, and DevilDriver shows) will tell, but when crowds are as enthusiastic as this it’s only a matter of time before word spreads among fans and before you know it you have a thriving scene. May Wichita be so fortunate.

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Soles of shoes in a crowd shot = good concert.

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Ecstatic crowd surfer.

In Defense of Amy Winehouse

Her reputation preceded her—in my case, anyway. I was vaguely aware of “Rehab” and thought it was catchy, but it seemed like a gimmicky novelty song playing on people’s nostalgia of the old girl groups of the sixties. I liked the rebelliousness of the lyrics, though as time went on it became clear that rebellious or not, she needed help.

Before long, images of her reckless behavior flooded the media. That was the Amy Winehouse I thought I knew. The druggie. The drunk. The trainwreck. People enjoyed bashing her—for how awful she looked, for how strung out she was, for her penchant for getting into trouble. Admittedly, she was an easy target. Then, in 2011, she played with fire for the last time and died as a result of alcohol poisoning. Hardly a surprise. Another musician who can’t handle their addiction bites the dust, right?

Then I heard her music.

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I’m not sure how I came to hear the quote-unquote ‘real’ Amy Winehouse (by which I mean a song other than Rehab). It might’ve been because I had discovered Sharon Jones, and found out that her backing band, The Dap-Kings, played on Winehouse’s massive hit (and final) album, Back to Black. All I know is, when I pressed play on that first song (I wasn’t listening in chronological order—it was either Love is a Losing Game or You Know I’m No Good) everything else faded away. The world stopped turning for a minute while I sat entranced by the voice coming through the speakers.

“My God, THIS is Amy Winehouse?”

Granted, listening to her music posthumously gives it a haunting, verging-on-tragic edge that it might not have had when she was alive, but the fact remains her voice was simply amazing. Hearing her music, not just the one single I’d already heard, I finally understood what the big deal was all about.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who don’t. A simple google search of her name returns as many links detailing her struggles with addiction as to her music itself. Where do we draw the line, between remembering someone’s contributions in the name of art rather than simply remembering the mess they made of their lives? Is it because her struggles were so public?

That’s the thing that’s gets me about her detractors—if you like music art of any kind, chances are strong that at least some of what you like was created by some truly screwed up individuals. The list of actors, writers, and musicians, etc. who are/were addicts or alcoholics is staggering. I started researching so I could list a few here, and the list was overwhelming. Everyone from heroin-addicted jazz musicians to Edgar Allen Poe to painter Thomas Kinkade, who died as a result mixing copious amounts of alcohol and valium.

Who would've guessed The Painter of Light battled with demons?

Who would’ve guessed The Painter of Light battled with demons?

Eventually, I’m confident time will take care of it. Maybe it’s already starting to. That’s one thing about art: it stands the test of time. Although it’s true that Amy found fame in the modern age of paparazzi and images of her being extremely messed up are all over the internet, people will care less and less about that as time goes on. Her music will still be there, and will still be amazing.

Even though her contribution to the world of music is relatively small at only two albums, it seems we should give her the same respect we give others who have fought and lost their own battles (Whitney Houston comes to mind). People should be defined by the art they gave the world, not the mess their personal lives may have been in the process.

And who knows, maybe she doesn’t need defending at all. Or, maybe the people out there who have no respect for her never will, and trying to defend her to those people is an exercise if futility. But if you only know the tabloid persona and you’ve never actually heard her music, forget what you think you know and give her a chance.

If you want a retro sixties vibe, stream Back to Black. If you’re more of the jazz persuasion, try her astounding debut (recorded when she was just 19 years old), Frank. If you don’t have that kind of time and just want to check out a single song or two, go back up and check out the other links. She wrote the majority of her own songs, and was a lot more than just a girl with a beehive hairdo, crazy eye makeup, and a substance abuse problem. She was an artist. Hopefully that’s how she’ll be remembered.

Lessons Learned from Listening to a ‘Cool’ Radio Station

It’s amazing to me how even in 2014, in an age of self-driving cars and hyper-realistic sex dolls (clearly the two biggest technological advancements of all time, right?), I can still forget what kind of incredible technology I have at my fingertips.

Growing up in a sparse desert halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, radio was a fickle, fickle thing. Vegas stations were much too far away. The LA stations were attainable, depending on a few things—where your house was located, how good an antenna you had, and just which station you wanted to listen to. If it was classic rock you were after, then you’d have no problems whatsoever pulling in KLOS, which had the strongest signal and could be picked up from practically anywhere in our Mad Max-like wasteland (slight exaggeration). If your tastes were slightly more off center, however, then getting a good radio station became exponentially more difficult.

(I should note, just in case any desert friends happened to be reading, I know eventually X1039 popped up and made things a heck of a lot better, but I’m talking about the harder-to-get stations from the barren, early years before their existence, so bear with me. Also, desert friends: is that still the only ‘local’ alternative station or do you have any actually broadcasting in the Victor Valley yet?)

The radio situation was part of what made going to concerts such a special experience. See, at that point in time you pretty much had to make the 100-mile-plus drive all the way to LA or Orange County to see a band you liked, and that meant you could get all the stations that were faint, static-filled whispers in the night back in the desert. The go-to station would usually be KROQ—er, “The World Famous KROQ” as they’re so fond of saying—an alternative station that played a plethora of music that most stations within our measly desert reception area never touched. You could hear new music, but you could also hear music you actually liked on the radio—something I think people take for granted in the new, Pandora/Spotify era.

The other, even more elusive station was 91X out of San Diego. They were even farther away and it would usually take an extra long trip somewhere far from the desert to be able to pick them up (in my case, anyway). They played an even broader spectrum of music, a lot of which I had never heard of, and they have the distinction of being the first (and only) terrestrial station on which I’ve ever heard the great Morphine, one of my favorites.

Now, back to the present. Cut to three weeks ago. My wife and I had a brief conversation one day about Ye Olden Days of being excited to tune in KROQ or 91X once we’d driven far enough toward civilization, and a couple of days later she casually mentioned that she’d started listening to 91x, streaming it from their website.

I looked at her like a dog when you ask it who sang Purple Haze. “Really?” I asked. “You can just do that?” You see, guys, I was being an idiot. It never dawned on me even once to just go to a radio station’s website and stream their signal. Partially I suppose it’s because the stations here in Wichita are absolutely dreadful, and why on earth would I want to stream them when I can listen to a Pandora station that’s infinitely better? But now, realizing the great brass ring of radio stations was right there this whole time, just waiting for me to tune in…well, I felt pretty dumb and I started streaming 91X immediately. (KROQ requires some app to stream their feed, and said app is the lowest-rated I’ve ever seen in the app store, so they’ll just have to fix their shit before I listen to them anytime soon)

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It’s been two weeks now of unadulterated, previously unattainable radio, and what have I learned? Let’s see:

Never heard of KONGOS? Give 91X a day, two tops.

I knew vaguely of their song “Come with Me Now” from…somewhere; a commercial or movie trailer or something. It’s an okay song—catchy, not overly poppy, and features slide guitar, a true rarity in today’s music. 91X likes KONGOS A LOT. Not just the one song, either. I’m now familiar with about half their current album. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, just sayin’.

They actually play a decent amount of new music.

I can’t claim to be the bastion of cool I was in my 20’s (inside joke there for anyone who actually knew me in my 20’s), so I don’t know how obscure or underground any of the new music 91X plays is. The fact is, I don’t really care.  They’re playing music that I’m not familiar with that’s not entirely bad, and some of it is actually pretty good. Most—no, all—the stations here in town can only hold me for about ten minutes or so before they play something that makes me want to puke or pull an “Aunt Linda” from SNL:

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You may wonder why I say they play only a ‘decent’ amount of new music. That brings me to my next point.

They pander to old people like me.

It’s nice to hear an occasional nugget from my youth mixed in with the new stuff; you need something to be able to hum/sing along with once in a while. 91X makes sure to comfort us old folks by playing the likes of Sublime, Offspring, Weezer, Beastie Boys, Nirvana, No Doubt, etc. constantly. Don’t get me wrong, like I said, it’s nice to have the familiar mixed in with the new, but it’s not like they’re playing deep cuts off of the obscure albums or anything like that. In most cases they’re playing the same songs that were played to death 20 years ago. And some of those old bands (*cough-Offspring-cough*) I never liked to begin with.

One thing I have to say about playing old music: even though I’ve never been the band’s biggest fan, I will instantly be a fan of any radio station that plays Violent Femmes, particularly “Add it Up.” They were one of those bands I never heard anywhere but on the cool stations, and while I won’t listen to an entire album of theirs, I like whatever songs get played on the radio.

All in all, it’s been a great time and has made me crave more. And this is where I reach out to you folks.

What’s your favorite (preferably independent) radio station? I’ve noticed some of the differences and similarities between 91X and the ‘cool’ station in Kansas City, 96.5 The Buzz (stupid name, but it doesn’t have an ‘X’ in it). Some songs overlap, but there’s a good number of different artists as well, and that’s where it gets interesting. I want to see what bands/songs the radio station in your town plays. This goes for anyone and everyone reading this, too; not just people who like this kind of music. I’m eclectic, I want to hear it all. Even that handful of you who read from outside the US, if I can stream it, let me know about it.

In the meantime, I’m going to go turn on some tunes and bet my wife how which band 91X plays first: KONGOS or Nirvana.

On The Joy of Discovery

This post mainly serves as a way for me to knock the rust off, as it were. As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been gone for a little bit. I’ll go into what caused my temporary absence sometime, but for now I’m just trying to get back in the water, so to speak.

Here are words I wasn’t sure I’d ever say: I saw a really good Woody Allen Movie recently. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the man, and there are quite a few of his movies I might enjoy, but the ones I’ve seen, well, they just weren’t my thing (full disclosure—I haven’t seen any of the “classic” Allen movies like Annie Hall or Manhattan). Then I saw Match Point (2005).

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Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as a has-been-that-never-quite-was tennis pro who takes a job as an instructor at a posh country club in London. He strikes up a friendship with one of his clients, then becomes obsessed with his friend’s fiancé, played by Scarlett Johansson. Meanwhile, his friend’s sister falls head over heels for him, so he begins dating (and eventually marrying) the sister mostly just to keep himself around the fiancé (and his wife’s family’s money), until finally initiating an affair. From there things unravel in quite an interesting—and intense—way.

The movie was a bit unusual in it’s pacing to me. It was sort of a fast-paced slow burn of a thriller. At times it seems like not a whole lot is going on, and yet the story really never stops moving. It was interesting from a storytelling point of view how little wasted time there was. Some scenes would literally be thirty seconds long, giving you just a glimpse of a character’s facial expression to show what they’re thinking/feeling before moving on to the next scene. It was the increasingly rare movie that didn’t feel too long or drawn out; the two hour running time flew by.

Near the end the police enter the story, and their handling of affairs borders on implausible, but the movie was so good that I felt I could let that slide. If you’re in the mood for a dark, intense couple of hours, give it a shot. The tone reminded me a bit of The Talented Mr. Ripley, though not as high a body count.

Now then, on to the title of the post—discovery.

As I’ve mentioned before, in my early twenties I worked at a retail record store (the fact that we didn’t sell actual vinyl records not withstanding). I clearly remember when LeAnn Rimes came out with her debut album, lots of older/elderly people would come in asking for the CD, all of them remarking “She sounds just like Patsy Cline.” I would think, Why do you want to listen to somebody who sounds like someone else? Why don’t you just listen to Patsy Cline?

There was another artist, the name escapes me (maybe D’Angelo?), that people would buy because they thought he sounded like Al Green. Again, I thought, Just go listen to Al Green. Which really isn’t too bad of advice, people. Seriously, put some Al Green in your life. I digress. The point is, now I think I get it.

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I was reading about the goings on at SXSW and happened upon a sentence or two about a band called Radkey. I decided to look them up on YouTube, and well…holy crap. Three brothers from Missouri who play punk rock with just the right touch of melody and harmony (for my tastes, anyway—I’m not much for the really poppy sounds, if you haven’t been able to tell from previous posts), and hearing them felt like someone put jumper cables on my nipples and jumpstarted my head.

There’ve been the occasional bands I’ve come across in the last few years that I liked pretty good, but I seem to keep drifting back to my comfort zone: music from the 90’s and early aughts. Nothing I found recently really moved me except for a select few: Red Fang, which is really up my alley but still not totally freak out worthy; Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, whose funk stylings are awesome but sometimes veer too far to the R&B/soul for my tastes; and OFF!, whose brutal attack of songs are great but short—you can listen to their first four EP’s in less time than it takes to watch a sitcom (without the commercials).

All of which makes Radkey that much more special to me. For the first time in years I found a band that’s actually out right now that I like a lot. Part of what makes them so exciting is how young they are—both in the literal sense and also as a band. They managed to get attention early on and are getting breaks fast, having put out only two EP’s so far. To be able to track their progress in the industry and see how they grow as a band as it happens is something I haven’t done in a long, long time.

Are they perfect? Hell no, far from it. A couple of their songs are kind of generic, and all three brothers are far from virtuosos (the drummer is adequate at best). But that’s the beauty of punk rock—you don’t have to be a master of your instrument, you just need the passion, energy, and emotion, and as long as that comes across in your music, why, you’re just fine. And they’re only going to get better.

Now, I know a lot of you may not share my taste for this particular slice of musical pie, but if you’re so inclined, give ’em a whirl. They have a definite Ramones influence, and at times the singer/guitarist sounds an awful lot like Glenn Danzig, giving them a Misfits vibe. There’s more to them than that of course, so if you’re into that kind of thing check them out. You can visit their website and stream their EP’s here, or you can find performance clips on YouTube—I’ve included a link to my favorite song of theirs, Out Here In My Head, live on Later…with Jools Holland.

And with that, I think I’m officially rust free. 🙂

Auditory Time Machines and The Concert from Hell

A while back on Facebook there was a thread going around to list the first ten albums that sprung to mind that were special to you and had stuck with you over the years. It was a lot of fun, and not just in making up my own list but seeing the lists my friends came up with—there would be one or two that would stick out from the others that told you there might be more to your friend’s musical tastes than you thought.

When I looked over the list I made, I realized something: each album I listed brought to mind a very specific period in time. Sometimes it was a span of a couple of years, sometimes it was just one memorable night. Some examples:

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Minor Threat was a punk band with a short (but brilliant) career. Their entire discography is only about 45 minutes long, and was all released as one album after their demise, titled simply Complete Discography. Although they were around in the early 80’s I didn’t discover them until a decade later, when I was in my first real band and going to lots of concerts and playing shows of our own, etc. To this day, hearing Minor Threat puts me back behind the wheel of my old red Ford Tempo, driving around the desert picking up my friends without rides so our band could practice (a lot of good it did us *ba dum tish*).

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Jimi Plays Monterey is  a live album that was released in 1986, just after I had moved to a new town and started at a new school. I found a friend who also liked listening to his parents’ records, and instead of Flock of Seagulls or Depeche Mode we were listening to Cream and Jimi Hendrix. That album (which is still incredible if you’re a Hendrix fan) takes me back to doing homework in my room while furious guitar solos blared in my ear.

Then there’s the one that takes me to one night. December 26, 1992, to be exact. The concert from hell.

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I volunteered/was volunteered to drive four of us to see the band Ministry, on tour supporting their new album Psalm 69, with opening acts Helmet and Sepultura. All bands I really liked a lot—it looked to be an awesome night of music and I was really excited for the show. The concert was in North Hollywood, which was a couple of hours from our desert homebase, so we planned to leave early in the afternoon to avoid traffic and get there in plenty of time, which was standard operating procedure.

In the interest of anonymity, I’m going to change the names of my passengers. We’ll call them Paul, George, and Ringo. As we were leaving for the show, Ringo told me we needed to stop at his brother’s house on the way. His brother lived in a city that was right off the freeway and really wasn’t out of the way at all, so it was no big deal. Still, my spidey-senses should have started tingling right away. Without going into too much detail, things went down at said brother’s house which put my passengers in a much better mood but freaked me out A LOT.

Our stop was longer than intended and it put us behind schedule if we met any traffic on the freeway the rest of the way to LA, which was quite common. So we rushed back on the road and sure enough, stop and go, bumper-to-bumper traffic. Finally we seemed to get past the congestion as everyone sped back up to normal speeds again, when suddenly everyone slammed on their brakes again. I stood on my brake and came within inches of the car in front of me, letting out a sigh of relief until George yelled “REAR END!” and we were hit from behind by a car with, I’m guessing, worse brakes or poorer reflexes.

We dealt with the accident and got to the venue about twenty minutes after start time, missing most of the first band. We’re weaving our way through the maze of parked cars when George sees a nice Mercedes with a primo parking spot, and is suddenly very upset by this. Since he already had been complaining about needing to find a bathroom(and was of a mental state that could not exactly be defined as sober), he decided to kill two birds with one stone and proceeded to urinate all over the expensive luxury sedan. This freaked me out, because as part of the group I figured I was guilty by association. Luckily, no one saw this go down.

By the time we got inside the venue and reached our seats, I was an electric ball of nerves. It had been a long trip getting there, and I wasn’t looking forward to the drive back. Then to top it all off we managed to get separated at one point, so I didn’t even know where everyone was. Needless to say, Paul, George, and Ringo were all oblivious to my ulcer-inducing experience and had a much better time than I did that night. But ever since, whenever I hear any song from the album Psalm 69 I’m taken right back to that fateful trip to North Hollywood.

Okay, guys—story time. Tell me the memories you have tied to music, good or bad. What are your auditory time machines?

The Grammy Awards: Your Uncool Uncle

“The Grammys is the one award that doesn’t matter to anyone until they win one.”

For 15-20 years, I dismissed the Grammys as utter crap. It all started back in 1989, when they decided to branch out and recognize heavy metal and hard rock with its own category/award. And in a year when Metallica’s …And Justice For All ruled the rock/metal world (and, in my opinion, were still good and relevant), who was awarded the Grammy? Jethro Tull.

I repeat: Jethro Freaking Tull. A band with a flautist. How metal.

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It was an insult, a joke, and the moment I quit caring about the Grammys. And why should I? The music that mattered to me wasn’t even getting radio airplay most of the time, let alone being recognized by the industry. If a band I liked would’ve won a Grammy back then, I would’ve expected them to either not show up to receive it or give a vulgar and disparaging acceptance speech, detailing the ways the award was a joke and meant nothing to them. Breaking it on the stage would have been a plus.

In the early 2000’s I started watching the Grammys again, mostly out of morbid curiosity. There were some interesting wins here and there, some I agreed with and a lot I didn’t. There were interesting performances, some memorable and some miserable. But what became more and more clear is that for every tragic misfire there would usually also be a step in the right direction.

A prime example: in 2007 and 2008, Slayer won back-to-back Grammys. Slayer, one of the least commercial bands in the history of rock music, and one of my favorite bands. And all I could think to myself was, “It’s about damn time.” Suddenly the Grammys mattered, because a band I liked won one. And they humbly and graciously accepted the award, despite my wishes a decade earlier that any band I liked that won demolish the award immediately.

Now, I don’t always agree so wholeheartedly with who wins the Grammys (although I really don’t lose any sleep over any of it), but over the last few years I’ve come to view the Grammys as an uncool uncle you only see once a year—he isn’t as cool as he tries to be; he can sometimes be downright embarrassing; but, above all else he’s trying, and that counts for something.

Looking at this year’s rock nominees is a pretty good example: a handful of newer, and in my opinion more relevant artists mixed in with the likes of Black Sabbath, Neil Young, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin, for God’s sake. It seems to me more young acts should be nominated to keep interest in the awards, or else each new generation is going to write the Grammys off  as a bunch of geezers giving each other awards—although hopefully we never see another Jethro Tull-style goof up.

I had thought about doing a write up of the Grammys fully expecting it to be a snarky, sarcastic, excessively negative piece about the worthlessness of the awards. And while I still don’t think any band should care that much about winning one, it would be naive to say they don’t matter at all. The truth is, the Grammy is the biggest music award on the planet, and who wouldn’t like to be told their work is good enough to get one? The fact that they also give them to some of the worst songs/performers every year in the pop categories is another matter, and I’ll leave that issue to someone else.

I also have to admit that I’ve quite enjoyed the actual Grammy telecast the last few years; they really appear to be pulling out all the stops to make the show itself memorable, even if you don’t care about the actual awards. And with that, I’ll be the first to admit I’ll be watching Sunday night anxious to see who/what people are going to be talking about on Monday. Will you be watching?